In medieval times it was commonly believed that somewhere on earth, there still existed a perfect land. A land where everything was beautiful and restful. They called this place the Earthly Paradise. Today, the concept is more appealing than ever.
Many have come to realize that the dozens of atolls that make up the Seychelles perfectly suit this description. With turquoise lagoons, snow-white beaches fringed by tall palms, dense sweet-scented gardens where enormous ferns grow below tall granite cliffs, and a fish-rich cobalt-blue ocean, the Seychelles is undoubtedly the place to go if you've ever had an urge to fish in paradise.
In terms of oceanographic data, the Indian Ocean is still largely unexplored. For some reason, less seems to be known about this huge body of water than about the Atlantic or Pacific. However, anyone who studies a relief map of the Indian Ocean sea bed would find their imagination brightened at the fantastic plethora of submerged mountain ranges, valleys, canyons and plains.
Situated right in the middle of this fascinating bottom topography are the Seychelles Islands, an archipelago of 115 islands - 21 of which are inhabited - scattered over an area of about 150,000 square miles.
Although located 4 degrees south of the equator, the Seychelles have a pleasant tropical climate, and thanks to the sea breezes, are not affected by the very hot conditions which other regions on the same latitude suffer.
The Seychelles are divided up two large regions: the "Near Isles" and the "Outer Isles."
The Near Isles are north, near the island of Mahi, which contains the republic's capital city, Victoria. These islands feature granite cliffs, with tropical vegetation inland growing like huge gardens out of the sea. The Outer Islands, which are really atolls of the barrier reef system, are all coral, sandy, covered with palm trees and only a few feet above water level.
"Big-game fishing is not new to the Seychelles," says M.J.L. Loustau-Lalanne, principal secretary at the Department of Tourism and local IGFA representative. "A glance at the IGFA World Record Book will confirm that professional anglers and sport-fishing enthusiasts have over the years discovered the enormous potential of this hot spot."
Indeed, big-game fishing in the ocean surrounding the Seychelles can be phenomenal. It is also available year-round, due to the fact that most of these islands are exposed to both Indian Monsoons. Since the most important game fish species show up with the monsoons' arrival (as they follow the food-rich currents and upwellings the monsoons create), the Seychelles' best fishing occurs in two main areas. The Mahi/ Silhouette Islands and Praslin Island in the North Isles boast good fishing from April through December (Southeast Monsoon); and Bird Island and Denis Island, situated at the northern border of the Near Isles, 50 to 60 miles north of Mahe, have excellent fishing from November through May (Northwest Monsoon).
Mahi and Praslin islands are located near the Seychelles Bank, an underwater plateau which is a fairly uniform 40 fathoms deep. With crystal-clear water and 25-fathom visibility, this is a unique place to see and catch sailfish, wahoo, dolphin, and even blue and black marlin. Mahi's city of Victoria hosts the nation's largest sport-fishing fleet, the Marine Charter Association, which boasts seven well-equipped, American-made sport-fishermen from 26 to 50 feet in length. The waters between Mahi and Silhouette islands hold the record for billfish captures, with more than 60 percent of the archipelago's sailfish coming from this area.
The fishing area around Praslin Island also has several good spots for sailfish, tuna, dolphin and an occasional marlin. The local skippers of three charter boats available at the Indian Ocean Fishing Club Hotel and the Bertram 35 at the Inter-Island Ferry Service know these banks well, since they have been fishing the area since 1937.
In the Outer Isles lies the other interesting area for big-game fishing in the Seychelles. Here, Bird Island and Denis Island are situated on the northern borderline between the shallow waters of the Seychelles Bank and the 1,000-fathom drop-off, where the sea bed drops almost vertically down into the deep. These two gemlike islands lie only 2 and 5 miles respectively from the 1,000-fathom line.
Bird Island - which the English so named because of the millions of sooty terns that breed and nest there from May to September - is only 1 mile long and a half-mile wide. Inland of the coconut palms and wild papyrus trees is a perfect hiding place for the small landing strip and Bird Island Lodge, which can host up to 50 guests. The lodge has 25 wooden bungalows thatched with palm leaves, and verandahs with a beautiful sea view. Its charter fleet consists of three 23-footers powered by twin 60-hp outboards.
Ten miles east of Bird Island is Denis Island, similar in size and appearance. Here owner Pierre Burkhardt has built the elegant and exclusive Denis Island Lodge, which offers 24 bungalows and a charter fleet of four boats from 20 to 27 feet in length. The lodge also offers tennis, windsurfing, golf and diving.
Both islands have the same year-round seasonal pattern. Blue and striped marlin peak from November through May. Black marlin, though present year-round, peak from October through March. Sailfish, also available every month, peak October through January and again May through August.
Even though these islands are exposed to both monsoons, the sea is surprisingly calm for most of the year, and small boats prove quite suitable for fishing these waters. And since the drop-off is so close to shore, most guests return back to the lodge for lunch and a brief rest before returning to sea for the afternoon bite.
On my most recent trip to the Seychelles, I fished the Bertram 31 Lady Claire, of the Marine Charter Association fleet in Victoria. I arrived with a full tagging kit from The Billfish Foundation and several of my own light-tackle outfits, as the local charter boats typically only supply gear heavier than the 30-pound class.
Once we reached the Taxi Bank, one of the three hot spots closest to Mahi, we set out four Panama strip baits and two plastic squid chains as teasers. At the bank we found frenzied schools of bonito feeding and soon had a double hookup of sailfish on 12-pound tackle, which were both tagged and released after a 30-minute fight. At noon we spotted a floating palm tree trunk, under which a school of bull dorado were balling up a shoal of sardines. We caught two of the 60-pounders, along with a 40-pound wahoo. On the way back to the marina, we burned our last Panama rigs, catching two more sailfish and three yellowfin in the 50-pound class.
On Day 2, we decided to fish the Pilot Patches Bank, where once again we found a massive presence of baitfish with predators following in wild pursuit. In this frantic atmosphere, we far exceeded our expectations for the day, catching seven sailfish, five yellowfin tuna, three dolphin and a wahoo.
Increased trade winds forced us 10 miles northwest towards the D'an Bank on Day 3, where we caught three sailfish and two yellowfin tuna in the 100-pound class.
On my final two days, we changed our trolling pattern to a bait-and-switch system in an attempt for marlin. While making bait over the Taxi Bank, I still had the first bonito in my hand when the mate spotted a big neon-blue shape finning excitedly after the wake of the Lady Claire. I rigged the live bonito and fed the hungry 250-pound black. Two hours later on 20-pound gear, we tagged and released the marlin. We stayed on the Taxi Bank a while, releasing two more sailfish, before we ran out to Rep Hermes Bank. We tried to fish for sails and marlin there, but it was practically impossible because the tuna were so voracious. We had to enjoy catching 13 yellowfin ranging from 60 to 90 pounds instead.
On the last day of fishing he headed back to the Rep Hermes Bank, hoping for better marlin action in the morning. We managed two sailfish and a wahoo before the flying fish and yellowfin began anew their struggle for life - an impressive scenario which I have never seen the likes of since. On the way back we trolled for two hours over the Taxi Bank, where we released a sailfish and another 250-pound black marlin which we couldn't tag because my once-full tagging kit was now as bare as Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard.
Undoubtedly, my fishing trip to the Seychelles Islands was more than positive, productive and relaxing. It was simply enchanting, as any trip to paradise should be.